Thanks to a very special “Golden Girl,” LGBTQ youth in New York City have a place to call home.
After actress Bea Arthur’s death in 2009, the Ali Forney Center learned she had left the nonprofit $300,000 in her will. The center provides housing for LGBTQ youth on the brink of homelessness and it has used her generous donation to build its very first building, called the Bea Arthur Residence.
According to the Ali Forney Center, nearly half of the homeless youth in New York City are LGBTQ. Many are homeless because they have been kicked out of their residences by families who do not accept them, and they are at risk for drug dealing or sex work in order to survive.
Additionally, the National Coalition for the Homeless explained that LGBTQ folks often face threats of violence in traditional homeless shelters, hence the desire for housing directly suited to their needs.
The Ali Forney Center has a drop-in center for LGBTQ youth, where they can access medical care, mental health services, hot showers and warm meals. It is the first 24-hour drop-in center for LGBTQ youth in the nation. The center also provides referrals to comprehensive health services, including HIV and STI testing and contraception.
Bea’s Lifelong Advocacy
Arthur had long been a champion for LGBTQ youth, particularly for the Ali Forney Center. She once performed a one-woman benefit show for the organization, raising $40,000 in funds. But when the recession hit and donations became harder to come by, the nonprofit wasn’t sure it would be able to stay open.
That is, until center director Carl Siciliano got a call from a friend of Arthur’s, informing him of the money she bequeathed the center in her will.
In 2012, the New York City turned over an abandoned building to the Ali Forney Center as a location for the Bea Arthur Residence. With funding from multiple sources, the center began the renovation to transform the building in 2015.
Fittingly, the team cut a cheesecake at the groundbreaking ceremony instead of a ribbon because “for Bea and her golden girls, all troubles could be resolved with cheesecake and friendship,” Siciliano wrote on Huffington Post.
Officially opening its doors in December 2017, the Bea Arthur Residence is now an 18- bed longterm housing facility for homeless LGBTQ youth on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Youth who stay at the residence enter a 24-month Transitional Living Program, which helps them get the tools they need to eventually live on their own. The vast majority of transitional housing residents are pursuing education and are employed.
Siciliano is endlessly grateful for Arthur’s support and advocacy. “I thank you for your compassionate heart and your noble spirit. I thank you for recognizing that LGBT youths are deserving of love, and speaking out for them,” he wrote on Huffington Post. “I thank you for your amazing generosity that got us through tough times. From the bottom of my heart, Bea, I thank you for being a friend.”
There are hundreds of LGBTQ youth on the waiting list for the Ali Forney Center’s housing and the center is still in need of funding. You can support the organization here.